A grieving grandfather, featured in a story in the Daily Mail of London is blaming Amy Winehouseand other celebrities' drug use for the overdose death of his grandson, Christopher Preece.
My heart goes out to the family. No words are adequate when a family is grieving the loss of a loved one, and nothing can bring back Christopher Preece. While I understand Mr. Preece's anger and search for explanations for his grandson's death, pointing a finger at celebrity drug use will do nothing to change the situation.
While Mr. Preece's grandson died in England, the United States is also experiencing an overdose epidemic. Accidental deaths from illegal and increasingly from legal prescription drugs have doubled in the last decade. An estimated 22,000 Americans died last year alone from accidental overdoses, second only to motor vehicle accidents. More people died of accidental overdoses in New York last year than from murder. Yet our government spends not a single federal penny on overdose prevention!
Fortunately, some states are taking the initiative and deciding to do something about these preventable deaths. New Mexico broke ground last year when the state legislature passed and Governor Bill Richardson signed the first "911 Good Samarian" law that provides immunity from arrest to witnesses of overdose who summon emergency services. Most overdoses are witnessed by others who can take action. If 911 is called quickly, most people will survive an opioid overdose. Unfortunately, fear of arrest on drug charges often stops onlookers from calling emergency responders. In Christopher's case, his friends waited half a day to call an ambulance. It should never be a crime to call 911 to save a life. "Good Samaritan" laws can dramatically increase the chances of survival. Now New York, Maryland, California and other states are considering similar legislation.
Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Boston and other cities are starting to make available Narcan, an opiate antagonist that immediately and reliably reverses drug overdoses and saves the lives of drug users. This life-saving medicine has already saved thousands of lives and returned loved ones to their families and friends. Naloxone should be made widely available, coupled with training about how to recognize and respond to an opioid overdose. Studies show that most drug users are able to learn how to use naloxone -- a simple nasal spray that can stabilize breathing long enough for medical professionals to arrive at the scene and save a life.
While it's true that illegal drug use by celebrities is a terrible example for our youth, it could also be argued that public figures like Amy Winehouse are also excellent examples of how not to behave. Whatever one thinks of Amy Winehouse, we should keep in mind that there are concrete things we can do as a society to help save lives and prevent fatal overdoses.